Friday, August 24, 2012

My New Job

I'd been a little discouraged about the job hunt here, because the jobs that I would have liked all had people returning from last year to fill them.  I'd pretty much resigned myself to another year of volunteer work when I got a surprise phone call last Thursday.  A position had opened up in the Early Childhood Center as a permanent substitute.  A permanent substitute is at school every day even if all the teachers are all there.  If someone is absent, then my job is to cover for them.  If I'm not needed in a classroom, apparently there is other work for me to do.

Each grade has two permanent substitutes for that grade per building.  I will be working with grade K2.  Here, they start school at age 3 in grade K1.  Four year olds are in K2.  Five year olds are in K3 and six year olds begin first grade.  K1 thru K2 are in one of two Early Childhood Centers (ECC).  Each teacher has a maximum of 15 kids and a full time assistant.  I actually did not directly apply for this job - my resume was passed to them from someone else.  For me, I would prefer to work in either the library or with older kids, but the hours were good enough at the ECC that I decided to go ahead and do it.  I only have 3 training days where I need to be at school when the kids are not.  

We also miss the "thrill" of a huge back to school shopping spree.  They buy all the supplies except for ones that we might personally choose for our kids such as organizers, backpacks, etc.  I start work tomorrow  (Saturday)  and the kids start school on Tuesday.  We're expecting an exciting week!

You Might Be an Expat use a turn signal!

A couple of weeks ago, we finally completed the nerve racking task of buying a car in Saudi!  Here at KAUST there is free public transportation with buses arriving at each stop every 15 minutes.  Inexpensive taxi service and shuttle buses to Jeddah make it almost unnecessary to own a vehicle at KAUST.  Again, that's almost!  Carrying groceries home for a family of six, missing buses when trying to get to playdates, traveling to Jeddah for orthodontist appointments (Oh, by the way Cici gets braces this week!)  and trying to shop in Jeddah for a family of six all made it a lot more enticing to purchase a car.

Purchasing a car in a country full of death defying drivers poses the challenge of finding a reasonably priced, used vehicle that was in reasonably good condition. Kent was fortunate enough to have a friend at work who is Saudi who helped negotiate the price and arrange for a mechanical inspection before we got it.  Even then, the Ford Explorer (minivan's are hard to find here) we ended up buying didn't have any seat belts on the 3rd row seat and we didn't realize that until after Kent bought it and brought it home.  We are still trying to find out how to get the seat belts installed.  People here don't always wear seat belts.  I've seen mothers bouncing their babies in the front seat on a highway where people can't agree on whether there are 3 or 4 lanes of high speed traffic.  (Traffic lane markings are just considered road decor here!)

Paying for the car was interesting because they don't do financing here the way they do in the states.  Some people take a suitcase full of cash to pay for their car, but we didn't like that idea.  Kent's friend help him figure out how to wire the money to pay for the car and then Kent had to go back to Jeddah to pick it up when the cash was recieved. 

Last night as we were driving back from Jeddah we came up with a new take on Jeff Foxworthy's "you might be a redneck if" jokes.  We call them "You might be an Expat if..." jokes and the first one was inspired by the fact that some drivers here see a turn signal as a sign that tells the driver behind you, "I'm getting ready to slow down a little so you better hurry up and pass me and cut me off so you can get where you are going before you are highly inconvenienced by a slight reduction in your speed!"  But, hey - we're expats - we use turn signals!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Is it safe?!?!?

One of the great things about coming to the Middle East is to find out how many people care about you. One of the downsides is the fact that you find this out because they are going to worry about you. Sadly I think that Barbara bears the brunt of this. People assume that I am the crazy husband dragging his family (though they are the one who had to talk me into this ;-) into this "dangerous" place so in efforts to empathize they feel no qualms about sharing their concerns.

So I want to take a minute and set the record straight. We are VERY safe!! (though as the previous post indicates, I lose some of the moral high ground if we ask "is driving safe?" ;-)

For starters lets start with the fact that I live in a FORT! I have been in a gated community before, but never one where they had guards with a 50-caliber machine gun mounted in the back of a truck and national guards on permanent duty :-) Our fort is 35 square kilometer with a beach, palm trees, wind surfing, diving, snorkeling, modern air conditioned (and lots of it!!!), a great K-12 school, rec center, Burger King, 2 grocery stores, and a whole host of other amenities. To get to my house involves two checkpoints with armed guards and "protective weaponry". No ID? NO ENTRY FOR YOU!!! Now there are obviously two ways to look at this. The first being "even the Saudi's think it is dangerous" and so they put up all of this protection. The alternative is that they understand that this perception exists and this needs to be ameliorated if they want to get top quality people (or even people like myself ;-). Though I believe that it is more than likely a mix of the two, I tend towards the alternative.

When it comes to family friendly, KAUST is helping to write the book. We live across the street from a park, we are half a mile from the Red Sea, I can walk to my office in 20 minutes, when school starts I am told that we will have kids running out of our ____________________ (insert appropriate descriptor for all over the place). After work I had a flat on my bicycle and had a person bring me a tire patch and help put it on tonight, just because I saw him as I was walking the bike home.I just had a friend come back from the states and bring me some things that I wanted. When it comes down to great people, KAUST gets them.

Now back to safety. It seems in a country that has public executions on a regular basis, that there are not as many people who want to commit crimes (or they just have better criminals here not sure which). According to the United Nations, I have a 1 in 20,000 chance of being murdered in the US, here it is 1/5 of that or 1 in 100,000 ( In 2007, Saudi had 256 murders throughout the WHOLE country. In 2010, Chicago had 419 ( So just on the raw numbers I am almost twice as safe in Saudi than in Chicago ;-)

The people are very much like in America in terms of there a great people and there are jerks!!! One friend had a guy that he didn't even know, practically demand that he try some of his food. The one risk with this is if you share food with a Saudi you are practically friends for life. This guy sent our friend a text in the middle of the same night asking when they were going to get together and hang out.

In the end I am to the point that when I am asked "do you feel safe?" I feel like the granny who was pulled over and as part of the traffic stop asked if she had any weapons in the car. When she replied that she had a 38 in her purse, 45 in the glovebox, and a Glock under the seat, the officer asked "what are you afraid of" to which she replied "Not a darn thing!!!"

Am I safe at KAUST? You bet!!!

Best wishes to all,